Friday, June 17, 2011

Growing Church Trends

I am a student of and unashamed proponent of growing churches. It is an interesting focus because the norm in the American church is maintenance or decline, not growth. The fascination for me is to see where and how God is at work: i.e., what are His people doing that allows them to reach others for Him. The last time I looked, that emphasis is still in my Bible, so it should fascinate us.

In some circles, there is actually disdain for numerical growth. Some engage in this contempt out of fear of the pride of focusing on numbers. That is simply throwing out the baby with the bath water. Others are frustrated with a lack of growth success. They wonder where to turn. Seeing no direction, it is easier to focus on rationalizations for a lack of growth.

While the majority of churches are not growing, others are flourishing. What is the difference? What’s up? What are they doing? What is God doing through them that He is not elsewhere? Here are three observations from my seat in the balcony and in the arena as I consult to other churches. This is not meant to be comprehensive, but these are each very significant today.

1. The Simple Church Movement

This is a back-to-the-Great-Commission focus on ensuring that we adhere to a simple process of making disciples. Some of the elements of this are holding up our programs to the scrutiny of what the Bible says about intentional evangelism and disciple making. It also includes the intestinal fortitude to downsize or eliminate programs that do not adhere to this intentionality.

Another dimension to this is the transition of the predominance of the Baby Boomers to younger generations in the church. Boomers brought an emphasis on fulfilling yourself and finding meaning by discovering your spiritual gifts and passion for ministry. This resulted in an unleashing of the priesthood of the believer and a proliferation of ministry, which is good. However, this emphasis on personal meaning can become disconnected from the main thing of making disciples. Younger generations are sometimes rightfully more focused on the need for biblical (disciple-making) impact.

Three leaders in this movement are Thom Rainer (Simple Church), Andy Stanley (7 Practices of Effective Ministry), and Dave Browning (Deliberate Simplicity).

2. The External Church Movement

This is a significant trend toward ensuring that we prove the gospel by our actions before or while we are sharing the truth of the gospel with our lips. It requires first that the church understand the needs of its community. The church usually then aligns its programming to collaborate with their city, county, school systems, other government agencies, and social service agencies and mobilizes church members to meet community needs. Others work outside of the existing systems. Leaders in this movement are Robert Lewis (Irresistible Influence), Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw (The Externally Focused Church).

3. The Leadership Development Church Movement

An interesting tension occurs as the church grows. There is a tendency toward and even a need for the church to be staff-led (i.e. paid staff). Since the majority of churches are small and have small staffs, the transition to a multi-staff team can take years of investment and learning.

However, there is a tipping point where the large church needs to balance its resources between staff, programming, missions, facilities, and financing. It cannot continue to grow without a return to an Ephesians 4 model of raising volunteers including volunteer leadership.

Leadership development refers to a systematic way of calling and equipping church staff and lay leadership teams who equip other volunteer ministry participants. A nuance of this is clearly defining the governance role of the board as distinct from the vision execution role of the staff. Key leaders in this area are Don Cousins (LeaderShift), Aubrey Malphurs (Leading Leaders), and Thom Rainer (Breakout Churches).

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